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Silly romance mars an important subject

In the mountain villages of Turkey, Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac: X-Men: Apocalypse) is an apothecary with dreams of earning a medical degree. Financing his studies with the dowry from an arranged marriage, he promises to return to his fiancée in two years as a doctor.
    In Constantinople, he lives with his uncle, a wealthy merchant. The life of luxury and the family nanny, Ana (Charlotte Le Bon: Realive) distract him from his classes. Beautiful, free spirited and worldly, Ana is everything Mikael’s fiancée is not. He falls in love but keeps silent because he is honor-bound to marry another.
    Ana, meanwhile, is enjoying an affair with brash American A.P. reporter Chris Meyers (Christian Bale: The Big Short), who anticipates Turkish government will seek to rid the country of its Armenian population.
    As the nationalist movement takes root, Mikael is forced into a work camp where he is starved, beaten and stripped of hope.
    A movie about a genocide still unacknowledged by the Turkish government, The Promise had promise. Instead of exposing the consequences of xenophobia, Director Terry George (Standoff) settled for an Armenian retelling of Doctor Zhivago.
    Miscalculating the appeal of this tiresome romance, he treats us to shot after shot of pretty people pining for other pretty people.
    The male leads, both proven actors, are wasted. The movie soars when their characters discover what the Turks are doing. Devastated by what’s been done to his people, Isaac’s Boghosian plays for heart. Bale’s Meyers is the righteous crusader, fighting to find proof of the war crimes and alert the world.
    Unfortunately, the important story plays background to one of the more tedious romantic triangles in cinema history.

Fair Drama • PG-13 • 132 mins.

Atlantic ribbed and hooked mussels are Chesapeake’s Brita filter

Mussels are more than a seafood dish in buttery broth. Unlike those delectable mussels, our Chesapeake Bay mussels are small and tough. Our two native species, the Atlantic ribbed mussel and the hooked mussel, serve environment rather than appetite. Both are believed to be key indicator species of the health of the Bay.
    These filter feeders have a leg up on oysters. Due to their smaller size, they can catch the smaller plankton Picoplankton.
    In doing that job, mussels have been credited with filtering out twice as much plankton as do our oysters, Crassostrea virginica. That’s according to research conducted in 2015 by Smithsonian Environmental Research Center scientists Denise Breitburg and Keryn Gedan and Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s Lisa Kellogg (www.vims.edu/newsandevents/topstories/mussels.php).
    “Hooked mussels were also twice as effective as oysters at filtering picoplankton,” says Breitburg. The tiny picoplankton are particularly abundant in the Bay in summer.
    Lifespans upward of 15 years mean our mussels have long careers. They do their work in the Bay’s most dynamic environments near the water’s edge, helping to reduce sediment. They are also part of the Bay food chain, feeding crabs, shorebirds and ducks.
    You might see these hard-working mussels on the roots of underwater grasses or on hard surfaces like oyster shells, pilings and boat bottoms.

Bloom is the best thing to come out of D.C in a long time

The demand for organically grown food continues to increase. Because chemical fertilizers cannot be used in its production, growers must depend on natural sources for nutrients, such as animal manures, compost and green manure crops. The demand for compost is so great that it exceeds the supply.
    The problem may soon be solved by recent developments in processing biosolids.
    Biosolids are the solid materials derived from wastewater processing facilities, also known as sewage-treatment plants. Yes, you know what I’m taking about.
    Yet wastewater treatment has advanced so far that 85 percent of the biosolids in the U.S. satisfy EPA Class A standards. Class A biosolids can safely be use in the production of agricultural crops.
    The Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in Washington, D.C., is the largest plant of its kind in the world. The biosolids generated there are rich in Capital Hill bull @#!$. Now plant engineers have perfected a method of converting biosolids into Bloom, an organic matter rich in nutrients.
    First the biosolids undergo anaerobic digestion. Then excess water is removed, and the biosolids are dumped into a giant pressure cooker that is heated to more than 200 degrees. The pressure is released instantly, causing the tissues in the biosolids to rupture, thus releasing their nutrients. Anaerobic digestion degrades all organic compounds, including toxins. The pressure cooker treatment renders Bloom sterile. After the processed biosolid is removed from the pressure cooker, it is dried. The finished product looks black and has an earthy odor.
    I dedicated over 20 years of my career to research on composting. I have studied its value in nutrition and in controlling soil-borne disease. I have used compost on a great variety of plants, from growing garden vegetables to growing forests in abandoned gravel mines to blending rooting media for growing plants in containers.
    Compost has solved many problems, promoted recycling and has created new industries. Yet I have never achieved with any compost the results I am getting from Bloom.
    My method is blending Bloom with compost to combine the superior qualities of both products. I use a rooting medium containing equal parts by volume of peat moss and compost (made at Upakrik Farm) with 25 percent by volume Bloom. Because it contains seven mmhos/cm of soluble salts, it must be applied sparingly. My tests indicate that the maximum is 25 percent in combination with regular potting medium.
    I am testing it in growing broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, onions, peppers and spinach. I have also used it as mulch on half of the garlic plants growing in the garden. Garlic plants mulched with Bloom in late February are darker green and taller than garlic growing in the same bed without Bloom as mulch.

    Pictured above are cabbage and pepper plants growing for eight weeks with no additions but water as needed. The pepper plants that I have been growing are dark green while the cabbage and broccoli plants are a rich blue-green.
    We recently vertically mulched the large oak trees near my home by augering 320 six-diameter holes a foot deep, starting 10 inches from the trunk of each tree to the drip line of the branches. Each hole was filled with Bloom. Within two weeks, the grass surrounding each hole turned dark green and was growing rapidly. I can’t wait to see how the trees respond. I have vertically mulched these trees with compost every seven years with great results. I feel confident these mulching results will be even better.
        Bloom is not only producing excellent results but is also a consistent product day to day, month to month. What’s more, the Blue Plains process can be completed in days. In comparison, composting biosolids takes months from start to finished product.
        If every wastewater treatment plant that generates Class A biosolids were to include this new technology, growers would be better able to meet the demands for organically grown food. Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville is in the process of establishing facilities for drying and processing Bloom.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Leo James knows better than most what’s swimming down there

In gauging the chances of a successful fishing season, I have learned to distrust the forecasting of state and conservation officials as fraught with politics and self-interest. Worse, my own guesses have proven wrong so often that I’ve learned to stop making them. There has been, however, one source I rely on year after year.
    I’ve come to think of this fellow with his thick mane of white hair as the Oracle of Mill Creek.
    Leo James has again and again captured the essence of the unfolding seasons more accurately than I thought possible. Living on the same Mill Creek waterfront property that his family has held over the last 100 years or so, this mostly retired waterman still rises at 3am this time of year to set nets for fresh bait. He fishes, tends to his marina and shares his knowledge of the Chesapeake with anyone who doesn’t irritate him. Luckily, I sometimes fit that qualification.
    “More rockfish than I’ve seen on the Bay in a lot of years,” was his first take this year. “The fish were so thick out there in February and March that they ran all of the alewife up into the creeks. Then more rock showed up this month, lots of big ones, too.”
    His prediction: “We’re going to have a good many fish for the trophy season this year, even better than last. And the regular season should be just as good.”
    Being on the waters of the Bay almost every day over the last 70 years has given James a prescience that eclipses the attempts of many highly educated scientists. The strenuous life he’s led has also left its mark on him. To say he’s fit is an understatement.
    The daily schedule as he moves about on the water and in his marina would put most of his age group (myself included) in the hospital.
    “But I can’t work into the night then be back on the water by 3am any more,” he confessed recently. “Guess my years are catching up with me.”
    In our conversation, he also reminisced to back in the day when 50- and 60-pound rockfish chasing fleeing alewife would slam into his bait nets.
    “They’d rock the whole boat. You almost couldn’t stand up some days. A rock tail two feet across would come up out of the water so it took your breath away. I remember one fish so big that it just tore through the whole net, never even slowed down. On one or two days, we had to quit setting. The fish just ran us right off the water.”
    Hyperbole? I’m not so sure. I’ve read and heard similar stories and caught glimpses of too many really big fish moving through Bay waters to discount any of the Oracle’s recollections.
    Part of the beauty and mystery of the Chesapeake is that you never really know what’s beneath. Of course, Leo James has a pretty good idea.

Just how different is now from then?

When you take time to count, thoughts start tickling your brain.
    That sequence — 22-23-24 — which I hadn’t noticed until I wrote it down, could start its own numerological train of thought.
    Here’s another number: 1,219. That’s how many editions of Bay Weekly we will have made in the 24 years since we published Vol. 1 No. 1 on Earth Day 23, April 22, 1993.
    What do all those issue amount to? Where did all those years go? How is now different from then?
    I was coming up with more questions than answers until I bumped into Victoria Coles’ research into changing Chesapeake times.
    We are in the midst of change, Coles told me from her at Horn Point Laboratory in Cambridge, part of the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science.
    Coles and a couple of other researchers, Ralph Hood and Kari St. Laurent, have been “thinking about what people and organisms actually feel: daily weather, 10 or 15 warm days and their cumulative stress on people and environment,” she said.
    They found plenty of answers. But they had to look further than a mere 24 years.
    “In shorter times like 25 or 50 years, you start to see natural climate variability that overshadows long trends,” Coles told me.
    Coles’ team went back 114 years, to the beginning of the 20th century.
    From that perspective, they documented patterns that may feel familiar.
    Summers really are hotter.
    We suffer through 30 more “tropical summer nights” each year now than our ancestors did 100 years ago. On tropical nights, temperatures stay above 68 degrees.
    Maryland is feeling the heat more than Virginia, whose increase was only 20 days, while ours was 40, Coles explained. Since Bay Weekly went into business, we’ve added 10 of those insufferable nights when, without air-conditioning, you never cool off. Your clothes stick to you, your skin feels clammy and you toss and turn.
    That’s only one way we feel the difference.
    “It impacts human health,” Coles said. “When nights are not cooling, impaired immune systems really struggle.”
    Implications extend beyond human health to energy use and crop yields.
    Meanwhile, cold is lessening.
    “Since 1917,” Coles said, “frost days per year have dropped by a full month.”
    “This longterm trend,” she noted, “could be quite different for any given 25-year period because of natural climate variability.” But it could also have given our last quarter-century a week or eight fewer frost days. How does that accord with your experience? Maybe you even kept records.
    Chesapeake Country has grown wetter as well as hotter. As a region, we get about 41⁄2 more inches of rain per year than fell a century ago. Again, Maryland got the lion’s share, a full six inches. Intensity is increasing, too, rising by 10 inches per year (and six in Maryland) in “heavy precipitation events,” Coles said.
    All these changes amount to a longer growing season, 17 days more in Maryland over the past century.
    With all this change comes — no big surprise “lots of variability.” Like this year, Coles noted, “when we saw magnolia blooms get frost killed.”
    Each of those changes has huge consequences that can make the future ever more different and, by our old habits, more difficult to manage. “Agriculturally,” she says — and in so many other ways — “it makes it hard to plan.”
    I’m planning Bay Weekly’s 1,220th issue for April 27, nonetheless.
    Coles and her colleagues hope we will do more.
    “Our point here,” she wrote, “was to talk more about what we’ve been seeing in a way that might convince people to take actions that would increase their own personal and community resilience.”
    That’s what Bay Weekly is about. Every week, I try to take that message home, just as you do.
    Learn more: https://tinyurl.com/changingchesapeake.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher
email editor@bayweekly.com, www.sandraolivettimartin.com

Bright colors and silly humor will entertain children but test adults' fortitude

The Smurfs are pretty bored. Seeking adventure are best friends Brainy (voiced by Danny Pudi: Powerless), Clumsy (Jack McBrayer: The Middle), Hefty (Joe Maganiello: Drunk Parents) and Smurfette (Demi Lovato: From Dusk Til Dawn: The Series). Papa Smurf (Mandy Patinkin: Homeland) tries to keep them from getting into too much trouble. It’s a simple life, until an accident shows the young Smurfs a world outside.
    While smurfboarding in the forbidden forest, Smurfette sees a figure that looks like her. The figure drops a hat that is identical to Smurfette’s, and for the first time ever, Smurfette wonders whether she and her blue brethren are really alone. Before she can investigate, Monty, the pet vulture of Gargamel (Rainn Wilson: Adventure Time), kidnaps Smurfette and flies her to the evil wizard’s lair.
    Gargamel has spent years trying to capture the Smurfs so he can turn their magic to his own use. When he learns there might be more Smurfs, he becomes obsessed with finding them. Fearing that Gargamel might find these new Smurfs before they do, Smurfette, Clumsy, Hefty and Brainy set off for the forbidden forest.
    Animation is a tricky genre no longer dismissible as children’s entertainment. Many studios are producing nuanced movies with complex characters, inventive stories and gorgeous visuals. Smurfs: The Lost Village is not one of them. Made solely for its young audience, it features whacky visuals, lots of physical humor and characters defined by their names. At my showing, younger viewers were enthralled with the funny voices, silly antics and pretty colors.
    However, if you’ve ever voted, ordered an alcoholic drink or driven, this film was not made for you.

Poor Animation • PG • 89 mins.

Mr. Burrito finds his forever home

You’re working late one night, taking out the last can of trash when a large moving shadow across the street catches your eye. After pushing down the initial urge to run back inside, you recognize not a big rat or a small dog but a rabbit. Still, something isn’t adding up. This rabbit is much too large to be a garden-variety cottontail. A rabbit this big, and with a floppy ear, is bred to be a pet.
    You approach with caution, careful not to spook it. But it is carelessly headed toward a major thoroughfare while snacking on roadside debris.
    I don’t know about you, but I felt every nurturing instinct in my body waken as I burst into the restaurant kitchen yelling, “I need a carrot!”
    What follows is a quick-paced chase with slapstick humor, heart-pounding music and quick getaways. Despite carrots, my close approach sends rabbit under the nearest car, with me following.
    Rabbit would have been roadkill without a sidekick who joined me in a pincer move. Rabbit was caught by his scruff against a chain-link fence.
    Packed neatly in a fast-food box with a carrot, rabbit came home with me — and my Siberian husky — for the night.
    Next morning calls to local animal rescues and posts on Facebook Lost and Found Pets of Anne Arundel County turned up no missing rabbits. Poor allergic me was recued — as well as the rabbit, who made the husky very curious — by a friend with a farm and a vacant hutch.
    She said this was only temporary.
    Her roommate thought otherwise.
    Mr. Burrito, as he has been named, has found his forever friend, Sarah. The pair enjoys watching late-night television snuggling on the couch.
    Not every story ends up as well as Mr. Burrito’s.
    More than 60 rabbits were surrendered last year, according to Robin Catlett of Anne Arundel County Animal Control.
    To help prevent homeless bunnies, research the care and monetary commitments a bunny will need for an average life of 12 years.
    Never give a pet as a gift. Instead offer to pay for any fees and go with the beneficiary to make your gift an experience. Follow this rule with especial firmness at Easter time.
    Browse local shelters and rescue groups before buying from a store.
    Never abandon a pet. House pets are not bred to survive in the wild. If you can no longer care for a pet, call a local shelter or rescue group to surrender it.
    If you do see a rabbit in the wild and prefer not to give chase, you can call animal control, and an officer will assist you: 410-222-8900.

Trouble’s brewing below the surface

Mother Nature mulches in the fall by dropping leaves from her trees and by laying the blades of grasses or the leaves of herbaceous perennials over the soil. She covers the ground only with the waste she produces.
    We, on the other hand, buy bags of ground bark, chipped wood scraps or colored wood waste from only God knows where, pile it over the soil and call it mulching. I see mulch piled so deep trees seem to emerge from volcanic cinder cones. Roots of shrubs gasp for air and die from suffocation. Dense mulch absorbs most of the rain before it can penetrate to the soil, and plants suffer in drought.
    The leaves that fall to the forest floor in autumn serve as a blanket of insulation, allowing the soil to remain warmer longer and roots able to absorb water longer. The longer roots absorb water, the more resistant they become to damage by freezing temperatures. The leaves will decompose during the growing season, allowing nutrients to return to the soil for roots to absorb.
    Ground bark sold as mulch, on the other hand, contains very few nutrients. Decomposing, the mulch leaves behind clay-like particles called colloids. As colloids accumulate from repeated applications of ground bark, a slime-like layer forms over the soil, reducing air movement. Roots need oxygen, and they generate carbon dioxide. A thick layer of mulch over a colloidal layer can cause a toxic accumulation of carbon dioxide.
    Hardwood bark decomposes faster than pine bark, creating a colloidal layer sooner. Double-shredded hardwood bark mulch decomposes within a year, leaving behind fine organic colloids.
    Repeated applications of hardwood bark and especially double-shredded hardwood bark also raise the pH of soil and accumulate manganese. Since manganese is not very soluble, it accumulates to toxic levels within seven to 10 repeated applications. When the manganese levels in the soil exceed the levels of iron, copper and zinc, roots are unable to absorb iron for photosynthesis. Thus repeated use of hardwood bark mulch is a double-edged sword.
    Novice home gardeners like hardwood bark mulch because it is dark, keeps that color and does not easily wash away. But out of sight, trouble is brewing. Early signs of manganese toxicity are a gradual decline in growth, iron-deficiency symptoms on the newly emerged leaves, stunted growth and extensive branch dieback.
    Often, the only solution is removal and replacement of plants and soil.
    Repeated application of hardwood bark and composted wood chips recently forced one commercial ­blueberry grower to dig up an acre or more of plants. Manganese had accumulated to nearly 400 pounds to the acre, killing the formerly well-established and productive plants. Lowering the manganese from toxic levels took plowing the fields to a depth of a foot to dilute surface soil by blending in sub-soil.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Use light-tackle techniques for the fairest fight

If you want the best odds for hooking up and landing the most and the biggest migrators in the early trophy rockfish season, then troll. A wide spread of big baits with multiple heavy-action trolling rods spooled with 30- to 50-pound line will give you a definite edge.
    For many anglers, however, the trophy-sized rockfish deserves to be challenged on light tackle. There is nothing certain about tangling with a giant ocean-running striper on medium-weight spin or casting tackle with line testing 20 pounds and under. You’ll not only have to be at the top of your game but also a bit lucky to land a keeper, minimum size 35 inches.
    For the true sport, that’s exactly how it should be. Right from the start it will be a man-versus-fish battle with not much connecting you other than a slender rod and thin, delicate line. A trophy rockfish hooked and landed on light tackle is indeed a trophy.
    As the fish are traveling in the warmer top 15 feet of the water column this time of the year, you don’t need a lot of weight to get the lures to the proper depth. Thus trolling is a viable option. The lighter test and thinner lines on your tackle will allow a medium-sized swimming plug to get down to the proper depths.
    The hottest swimmers for this type of operation are the Rapala X-Raps, Mann’s Stretch Series Plugs and Bomber Long As. For filling the water with sound and vibration to get a big fish’s attention, add Rat-L-Traps.
    Traditional buck-tail jigs in small to medium sizes dressed with skirts and adorned with Bass Assassins, Sassy Shads or similar soft bodies will provide larger silhouettes and interest larger fish. Paddle-tail variations will add noise and vibration to your spread.
    Be wary of especially large hooks. Their thicker diameters, regardless of how sharp they are, can make penetration problematic, especially with the harder mouth structure of older stripers. When you do get a good strike, set the hook firmly and more than once. A big striper can simply hold a lure in its jaws and prevent hook penetration. That’s one of the few drawbacks of using light tackle.
    When boat noise drives the fish down from the top of the water column or they’re feeding near the bottom strata, you can still use light tackle by jigging. Once you marked a pod of big stripers holding deep, metal jigs such as a Crippled Alewife, Stingsilver or Little Jimmy can get down to the sweet spot and induce strikes. Seven- to 12-inch soft plastics like the BKDs and Bass Assassins will also get results when matched with jig heads of proper weight, three-quarters to two ounces.
    Using ultra-thin braided line such as Power Pro, Spiderwire or Fireline gives you a definite advantage. There is less resistance in the water so you get deeper with less weight. And as there is little to no stretch with these lines, you can troll your lures far behind the boat or jig deep water without fear of getting good hook sets on any fish that tries to eat your lures.
    The third and final technique for trophy season light tackle fishing is simply old-fashioned bottom fishing. The best baits right now are fresh menhaden and jumbo bloodworms. The addition of chum to your presentation can also attract attention. The only problems will be the unpredictability of the fish and the fact that they are in small groups and constantly on the move. So as you are committed to one location, patience and persistence will be key.
    The prime locations for presenting these baits will be near the mouths of the larger tributaries where the migratory stripers will tend to stage before moving upriver to spawn. That’s also where they are likely to pause and feed post-spawn in preparation for the journey back to the ocean. Bay shore areas such as Sandy Point State Park, Matapeake State Park, Tolley Point and Point Lookout offer public access where the odds of encountering a giant are also good.
    The trophy season is the ideal time for encountering the biggest rockfish of the year, so be prepared. Make sure your line and leaders are fresh, your knots tight, your hooks sharp and your drags set properly. These migratory giants will test every part of your tackle and all your angling skill.
    Good luck as we welcome the 2017 rockfish season!

Balancing valid interests — without falling off the tightrope

In 90 days of deliberations since Jan. 11, the 2017 Maryland General Assembly told us a lot about the state we’re in. It’s a message bigger than the sum — and subtraction — of the parts of the hundreds of laws passed or the 2,000-plus bills bypassed this year.
    By their actions, our lawmakers defined Maryland as a sovereign state vis-a-vis the federal government, balancing independence with the interdependence of the union. One place you see that message is the Maryland Defense Act, a Joint Resolution enabling the Maryland Attorney General to sue the federal government for illegal or unconstitutional actions.
    This is a smart step given harm that could come our way from a host of new administration initiatives, from ending long-settled programs to clean up Chesapeake Bay to forcing states and localities to assist with rounding up undocumented immigrants.
    At the same time, our General Assembly defined Maryland as a state that balances commercial interests with human and environmental interests. Keeping both those interests in play is, like tightrope walking, a feat of many tiny acts of adjustment.
    Looking at just a couple of new laws, we see that balancing act play out.
    One starts with oysters, though it’s a lot bigger than oysters or one law alone.
    Everybody wants oysters: They’re good in themselves, they’re good for the Bay, they underwrite Chesapeake culture, they support oystermen and their industry all the way to the table, where they’re good eating.
    How do you get enough oysters to go around, when — as every Marylander knows — we’ve loved them almost to death?
    Oyster sanctuaries are a big part of the current plan, and they’re where the story takes us. If oysters are growing so well in sanctuaries, shouldn’t oystermen — also an endangered species — get some of the bounty? Wouldn’t a harvest every couple of years be a good and fair thing?
    We have competing interests, and each has value and allies.
    Gov. Larry Hogan has sworn to make Maryland a business-friendly state, helping people, oystermen included, make a good living. At the same time, Maryland is committed to the Chesapeake, and that means giving oysters every chance.    
    How do you balance the interests?
    Back and forth, in increments of adjustment.
    This year’s compromise keeps oyster sanctuaries closed to harvest for two more years — until lawmakers and regulators have a sustainable management plan to guide and coordinate every oyster decision.
    That’s good: it takes Maryland a step down the road to planfulness, meaning we try to see choices in their full circle of consequences.
    It’s not so good for the oystermen. If I’m right about the kind of state we Marylanders are in, the balance should be tipped in their favor. Maybe we should encourage Gov. Hogan and our lawmakers to treat oystermen like farmers, who are so well incentivized to balance their livelihood with the good of the Bay — and the economy.
    The same kind of balancing act plays out with wider consequences in Maryland’s new law requiring businesses to give paid sick leave to workers. Lawmakers set the threshold at 15 employees, while the governor says 50. With rhetorical pyrotechnics, he’s promised to veto the lawmaker’s bill, which is still likely to become law.
    Still, the bigger point is that both sides — Republican governor and Democratic-controlled General Assembly — want to balance human needs with corporate interests.
    A state that balances both interests — with give and take on both sides — is a pretty good place to live.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher
email editor@bayweekly.com, www.sandraolivettimartin.com